The Sunday Mail
Border officials intercepted 92 minors who were being smuggled through Beitbridge Border Post last year and arrested more than 16 000 people for illegal crossings in the six months to June 2019.
A parliamentary inquiry into the state of border posts said this was indicative of porous borders.
The minors were subsequently referred to the Department of Social Welfare. The findings, which were collated from oral testimonies from Government officials and visits to Beitbridge and Forbes border posts, are contained in a report that was tabled in Parliament last week by chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Defence, Home Affairs and Security Services, Brigadier-General Levi Mayihlome (Retired).
“The committee noted that the Department (of Immigration) has on record a total of 92 minors whom they had referred to the Department of Social Welfare after being intercepted at Beitbridge Border Post in 2019. In addition, a total of 82 deportations had been effected from January to June. Thus, on average about 15 people being trafficked per month,” said Brig-Gen(Rtd) Mayihlome.
“Statistics submitted to the committee showed that a total of 16 187 have been arrested for illegal crossing from January to June 2019. This is a significant number and it can be quantified that on average 1 350 people are being arrested on monthly basis,” he said.
Security services were reportedly finding it difficult to patrol the country’s border lines because of their vast expanse.
The Zimbabwe-South African border stretches for 255 kilometres, while the border with South Africa extends to 1 231km.
The stretch between Zimbabwe and Zambia covers 797km and the borderline with Botswana is 813km.
However, of the 255km length separating Zimbabwe and South Africa, “border policing is being done in areas covering less than 50km and the remaining area becomes easily accessible for illegal crossing”, Parliament noted. Border officials and law enforcement agents were also poorly resourced and poorly equipped to adequately and meaningfully police both border areas and ports of entry and exit.
For example, ZRP officials deployed to man the areas have not been paid travel and subsistence allowances for the past 12 years, and are owed in excess of US$300 000.
On average, the deployments take more than 30 days.
The report said: “The committee was told that travelling and subsistence allowances were last paid in 2008 . . . Members were dividing their meagre salaries between themselves and their families in order to sustain themselves whilst on deployments at large distances far away from their ordinary places of residence.
“The committee learnt that the Department (of Immigration) did not have vehicles for border patrol operations and currently they are relying on private hire to chase criminals. At Beitbridge Border Post, the committee was informed that currently nine motorbikes were being used to patrol the whole stretch for anti-smuggling along the Limpopo River from Chikwarakwara on the east up to Shashe River . . .”
Police officers deployed at the country’s ports of entry also do not have luggage scanners and rely on “physical searching methods”, which are largely considered to be ineffective in detecting smuggled items. Beitbridge Border Post, for example, handles 12 000 travellers daily, with the number rising to more than 28 000 during peak periods such as the festive season.
This, Parliament argues, results in smuggling of goods, drugs and precious minerals.
According to the report, “border control officials also lacked skills, decent accommodation, office space and they usually work for long hours daily”, which opens them up to corruption.
Out of the 186 immigration officials that were implicated for corruption, 177 were convicted and nine were acquitted.
Notwithstanding the lack of surveillance and scanning equipment, the border areas — which rely on “a multi-sectoral approach” to coordinate “a myriad of systems in place to control the movement of goods and people across national boundaries” — were most often characterised by confusion between the various departments.
“It was reported to the committee that there is confusion of who is in charge of the border between the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and Immigration Department since there is no Ports Authority. An appeal was made for the establishment of Ports Authority,” said Brig-Gen (Rtd) Mayihlome. But Parliament believes that the multimillion-dollar upgrade of Beitbridge Border Post will significantly transform management of the border area.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa launched the US$241 million project in 2018 after it had been awarded to Zimborders in 2017.
It is envisioned that the project will see Zimbabwe and South Africa implementing the One-Stop Border Post concept.
The upgrade includes construction of commercial customs offices, facilities to handle vehicle traffic according to their categories, a bridge to link with South Africa, as well as upgrading some of Beitbridge’s key infrastructure.
Overall, Parliament believes that in addition to be paid their travel and subsistence allowances, the ZRP should be well-equipped with patrol kits including vehicles, scanners, drones, tents and other necessities.
It also recommends stiffer and deterrent laws against smugglers.
Government once considered introducing a Ports Authority to coordinate activities at the country’s ports of entry, but progress has been at a snail’s pace.